What I wonder is, how did "Elbow Room" ever pass without some severe rewriting ...
Well, Ms. Lenona, as Stan Laurel would say, "I'm glad you asked."
Around two decades ago circa 1995-96, NYC’s MT&R (Museum of Television & Radio; now known as the Paley Center for Media) presented a panel celebrating “Schoolhouse Rock” featuring singer/composer Bob Dorough and the series’ creators/producers George Newall (deceased) and Tom Yohe (deceased; pronounced “YOH- hee”).
It was a packed auditorium. Most of the audience were comprised of twenty-somethings. At the time, the only iterations available were out-of-print VHSes of “SHR” -- an abomination from the 1980s which were presented thematically (Multiplication Rock; Grammar Rock; America Rock; Science Rock) and were presented by, of all people, Cloris Leachman!
These videotapes featured Ms. Leachman singing and dancing with professional kid performers on the set of an indoor playground. The inane connecting “bumpers” were rife with songs not even lyrically worthy of the original SHR stable of writers (Dorough, Dave Frischberg, Lynn Ahrens, Lori Lieberman, et.al.) with offerings such as “Knock-knock, it’s Schoolhouse Rock/All the kids are dancing from around the block…” Blecch!
I never was fully able to comprehend what cachet Cloris Leachman had with the kidvid set in the mid-1980s. Maybe at the time she had taken over from Charlotte Rae as the star of “The Facts of Life,” but using that to make her marketable to kids is quite a stretch. From how I viewed those tapes, I felt IMHO that it was one day’s work and a quick paycheque for this Academy Award-winning actress.
At the MTR seminar, I asked a double-barreled question from the audience. I queried “In this day and age of political correctness and historical revisionism, have any of the ‘America Rock’ segments come under fire?” which I segued into “Will the ‘Schoolhouse Rocks’ be available soon on video? If so, I sure hope they will be bereft of those lame Cloris Leachman wraparounds.”
As soon as I mentioned Ms. Leachman, the audience cheered me on so uproariously that I didn’t even get the final word “wraparounds” out. I was assured that there was, indeed, going to be a new version WITHOUT Cloris Leachman, One of the producers mentioned that they both had recently been invited to a SHR event at Dartmouth, that the SHR videos were projected on the auditorium’s big screen and that the only ones available for showing were the dreaded 1980s versions … and that the entire Dartmouth audience booed the screen every time Cloris Leachman appeared.
Fielding my first question, Mr. Newall regretted the “Manifest Destiny” line in the US Western expansion themed film “Elbow Room.” Newall said that if he had viewed the Kevin Coatner-produced documentary “500 Nations” (which did not exist circa 1974-75), he never would have green-lit the “It was a Manifest Destiny” lyric.
After a pregnant pause, Bob Dorough brought down the house when he remarked in his Huckleberry Hound sound-alike voice: “I didn’t write that one.”
After the presentation, I asked Newall about the Declaration of Independence-themed episode “Fireworks” which repeatedly shows the signers declaring “Life!” and “Liberty!” with jazz singer Grady Tate adding “and the Pursuit of Happiness!” which is accompanied by a colonial guy chasing a colonial woman Harpo Marx-style. That would never fly today. Mr. Newall assured me that that tableau would similarly have been dropped in a modern setting.
MTR/Paley has always made a practice of video-taping their one-of-a-kind seminars and availing them to museum-goers. Years later, when I wanted to re-visit it, it wasn’t available. A day or two after the NYC event, MTR had flown out Messrs. Newall, Yohe, and Dorough to their sister facility in Beverly Hills for a similar seminar. Since then, MTR/Paley has deigned to make the Beverly Hills seminar available and not the NYC one - the one I attended and and where stirred things up.
So for all intents and purposes, the record of George Newall denouncing elements of “Elbow Room” and “Fireworks” just are not extant.
I stopped maintaining a membership and attending “Paley.” It turns out I have my own "museum of television and radio." It’s called YouTube.
Darn, that’s the end.